Lessons from the Grand Jury’s Decision
Monday night’s announcement that the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri had failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson has sparked confusion throughout much of the legal community as well as protests throughout the United States.
Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that a lot can be learned about and from the surprising decision by the Grand Jury. That said, for any lesson to be of value, one must understand the particularities of the Grand Jury process.
In this post, we’re going to explain some aspects of the Grand Jury’s decision process that many people are unfamiliar with; gaining a familiarity with these procedures can enable us to take away valuable information about the decision and the method by which it was reached.
To begin with, let’s discuss the Grand Jury system, specifically how it differs from a criminal trial. It’s important to remember that the two are not the same; whereas a jury in a criminal trial is responsible for deciding whether or not a defendant is guilt or not guilty of the charges brought against him or her, a grand jury is responsible for deciding whether or not there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against an individual (in this case Officer Darren Wilson).
So, in the case of the Grand Jury in Ferguson, they were responsible for deciding whether or not, based on the evidence of the case (including dozens of hours of witness testimony), Wilson should have been charged with a crime in the death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, a young man who, through the method of his passing, drew comparison to Trayvon Martin, a young black man who was, though unarmed, gunned down by community watchman George Zimmerman.
In addition to the fact that grand juries just decide whether or not someone should be charged, grand juries have access to a great deal of evidence, much of which would be inadmissible in an actual criminal trial; that means that the grand jurors are given even more insight into the facts of the case than trial jurors would be/are.
Furthermore, whereas a defendant in a criminal trial is given an attorney (or allowed to have one present), when the prospective defendant testifies before the grand jury, there is no defense attorney there to block illegitimate questions or assist in crafting responses. When Darren Wilson went before the grand jury to testify, he did not have a defense attorney to rely upon. (That just leaves the prosecutor to lead the narrative without having to worry about an opposing attorney pushing back against the prosecutor’s storyline).
Because of the grand jury’s decision, the shooter of Michael Brown won’t face a criminal trial, because the Ferguson Grand Jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson (i.e., they opted not to have charges brought against him). But why? According to media reports and purportedly eyewitness accounts, Wilson fired multiple bullets into Brown who was simply standing there with his hands in the air. If that’s what happened, how is it that the grand jury didn’t indict Wilson?
Because according to what the grand jury heard, that’s not exactly what happened. The members of the grand jury who made the decision had access to a wealth of evidence — evidence that others have not been able see, read or hear. Much of what was initially regarded as reliable eyewitness testimony has been discredited, as have many of the initial storyline painting Darren Wilson as the aggressor and Michael Brown purely as the victim.
So, what can we take away from the decision not to indict Wilson? Chiefly, let’s move on from this with sadness for the loss of life, but also the recognition that things aren’t always what they seem. Despite reports on social media and in the news that Brown was unjustifiably assaulted in the street by a trigger-happy cop, the facts painted a very different picture. It’s important not to judge an individual until all of the evidence has been presented.
If you have questions about this or any other criminal matter, please contact our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.